Location Nine

9. Deptford Ragged School

Audio Description – Caption Nine
Summary for Caption Nine

It is difficult to convey to those who are unacquainted with Deptford’s back-streets what a mine of national wealth exists in the young life which abounds there, only awaiting development.”

– From the Princess Louise Insititute and Deptford Ragged & Industrial School Report for year 1915.

The 19th century saw the establishment of ‘ragged schools’ across England, aimed at helping society’s poorest children, so called because the children were often ‘dressed in rags’ and wore no shoes. The government had not yet initiated its ‘education for all children’ programme at this time.

1915 Deptford Ragged School Report

The Deptford Ragged School was one of the first to open. Dating back to 1844, it was first established as a charitable organisation dedicated to the free education of the poorest children living in Deptford’s backstreets. Founded by eight Christian men and women in a loft over a cowshed, the school offered a safe and nurturing learning environment for children living in poverty or who had been orphaned. It taught reading, writing and maths as well as singing, sport, and skills to help children get jobs, feeding children before they could teach them.

Over the years, the Deptford Ragged School evolved into a much-needed community resource that offered various educational and social services to local people. In 1851, the school started offering education for adults and continued to expand as it acquired its first building in 1886. The school’s popularity grew: by 1862 it accommodated over 160 children at the day school, 64 at the night school and 140 each Sunday. The year 1886 saw the ‘New’ Deptford Ragged School open on Giffin Street. The then Earl of Shaftesbury said of the school:

“There is no institution in England more worthy of support than the Deptford Ragged School.”

In 1914, HRH Princess Louise became patron of the school and a building opened on Hales Street. The Deptford Ragged School was then renamed the Princess Louise Institute. When she died in 1939 the princess left £1,000 towards the construction of another building, the ‘new hall’ which was built next door, facing Frankham Street. Completed in 1953, it is still in use today by the Deptford Ragged School Trust.

Ragged & Industrial School Highlighted on a map on Giffin Street

The Deptford Ragged School Archive continues to provide vital programming for local children and families, remaining an integral part of the Deptford community. The building is also home to the Bear Church, which works to ensure it is kept and used by the local people of Deptford for many years to come.

The Deptford Ragged School Archive is a heritage outreach project that stores a collection of objects that tell the story of the school and its role in the local community since 1844. The archive is used to inspire and inform local community projects in Deptford and, in keeping with its heritage, also aims to advocate for children whose education is impacted by poverty. Based in the Bear Church, the archive is managed on a voluntary basis by Dr Katharine Alston.

I worked with the archive and Dr Katharine Alston to create a caption that would reflect the life of the school. We found in the 1915 report of the school which reads:

It is difficult to convey to those who are unacquainted with Deptford’s back-streets what a mine of national wealth exists in the young life which abounds there, only awaiting development.”

This quote is still very relevant to the work the archive does today. It spoke to the social issues that exist and the challenges that young people face growing up here. We talked about issues such as child food poverty, gentrification and poor living conditions. Unfortunately, the conditions that led to the opening of this school are not so different to those facing many schools and young lives today.

For more information about the Deptford Ragged School, I have provided links below:

Website: Home | Mysite (deptfordraggedschoolarchive.org.uk)

Twitter: (@DeptfordRaggedS)

Instagram: @deptford_ragged_school_archive


Deptford Ragged School Archive About. Deptfordraggedschoolarchive.org.uk. (2019). Retrieved 7 June 2022, from https://www.deptfordraggedschoolarchive.org.uk/

Deptford Ragged School Archive. (2020, 19 July). The Deptford Ragged School in Victorian Times by Year 5 at Tidemill Academy with the DRSA [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C02T-7x816g

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